Black Flag is probably one of the most recognizable brands in American music. They sort of started the hardcore movement, both musically and visually. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, a couple hours south of Henry Rollins birthplace of Washington DC, and home to a sort of vestigial hardcore scene, I saw a lot of the Black Flag logo when I was growing up.
Greg Ginn founded the band in 1976, calling it Panic. His brother Raymond later suggested the name change when they found out there was another band called Panic. He created Black Flag and the logo. He also designed most of their early artwork for posters and album covers, and his style, based on stark black and white pen and ink drawings, which made it easy to replicate at a low quality, did a lot to define the aesthetic of hardcore punk music and the American pop music that stemmed from hardcore.
“If a white flag means surrender, a black flag represents anarchy.”
He used provocative imagery and crude renderings to give the feeling of anarchy. The logo is very simple and easy to adapt for any artwork. Despite its simplicity, four bars representing the waves of a flag, it is recognizable to anyone familiar with the band, and probably American music since 1980 in general. The Black Flag logo is at the center of a huge movement, tattoos, graffiti, and art that a entire subculture uses to identify themselves, despite the fact that the band never played to an audience larger than 3,500. There is a documentary being made about people with Black Flag tattoos: Barred For Life.
Raymond Ginn changed his name to Raymond Pettibon, based on the nick name petit bon. He went on to become a real artist, working in a similar style but creating sort of bizarre cartoons, often with violent or anarchic messages. I don’t totally vibe with his content, but I really like his style. Pettibon actually was not happy with the way his work was treated by the band, who cut and paste from it without consulting him to make new flyers and album covers. They had a falling out in 1985. He also felt that his work for the band pigeonholed him as an artist.